Sacred Texts  Islam  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Mesnavi and The Acts of the Adepts, by Jelal-'d-din Rumi and Shemsu-'d-Din Ahmed, tr. by James W. Redhouse, [1881], at

p. vii


THE historian El Eflākī was a disciple of Chelebī Emīr ‘Ārif, a grandson of the author of the Mesnevī. ‘Ārif died in a.d. 1320; but as the dates of ‘Ārif's successors are carried down to a.h. 754 (a.d. 1353), when Eflākī's collection of anecdotes was completed, the historian must have outlived this last date. As a disciple of the Emīr ‘Ārif, he was a dervish of the order named Mevlevī, as being followers of the rule and practices of Mevlānā Jelālu-’d-Dīn, er-Rūmī, commonly known in English literature as "the dancing dervishes," expressed by Americans: "whirling dervishes." The dervishes of the order do not all dance or "whirl." Some are musicians, and some singers or chanters, who may, however, be occasional dancers also.

Eflākī's work gives a sufficiency of dates to fix the principal events that he commemorates. His dates do not agree exactly with those found in other historians. They are, however, sufficiently near for general purposes not of a chronologically critical nature. They commence with a.h. 605 a.d. (1208), and thus cover a period of 145 years dated, besides another 30 years of the lifetime of

p. viii

[paragraph continues] Jelāl's grandfather undated, who was a noble of such high standing and of so great a reputation for learning and sanctity at Balkh, that the king gave him his only daughter in marriage, unsolicited. His mother was also a princess of the same royal house with his wife.

This royal house was the one known in history as that of Kh’ārezm-shāh or the Kharezmians. They were overthrown, and Balkh (the ancient Bactra, or Zariaspa), their capital, destroyed, by Jengīz Khan in a.d. 1211. A remnant of their kingdom was continued for twelve years longer by the last of the line, who died, at once a fugitive and an invader, in Āzerbāyjān, in a battle fought against the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor.

Jelāl's family claimed descent from Abū-Bekr, a father-in-law and the first successor of Muhammed, the lawgiver of Islām. One of the descendants of Abū-Bekr was among the conquerors of the ancient Bactria, when it was first brought under Muslim rule, in about a.d. 650, under the Caliph ‘Uthmān and his children had maintained a prominent position in that country, possessed of great wealth, until the time immediately preceding the irruption of Jengīz.

Jelāl was the youngest of three children, two being sons, born of the princess, his mother, in Balkh. The eldest, a daughter, was already married, and remained behind with her husband, when her father and brothers left their native city some time between a.d. 1208 and 121 I, in which latter year they were at Bagdad. There is no further mention of Jelāl's elder brother. Jelāl was five years old when they left Balkh. By way of Bagdād they went to Mekka, thence to Damascus, and next to

p. ix

[paragraph continues] Erzinjān, in Armenia; thence to Larenda, in Asia Minor. Jelāl's mother was still with the party. He was now eighteen years old; and was married, at Larenda, to a lady named Gevher (Pearl), daughter of a certain Lala Sherefu-’d-Dīn of Samarqand, in a.d. 1226. 1 She bore him two sons there, ‘Alā’u-’d-Dīn (afterwards killed in a tumult at Qonya) and Bahā’u-’d-Dīn Sultān Veled, through whom the succession of the house was continued. She appears to have died rather young; for Jelāl afterwards married another lady of Qonya, who outlived him, and by whom he had two other children, a son and a daughter. (See Anecdotes, Chap. iii., No. 69, for a variant.)

After the birth of Sultān Veled at Larenda, Jelāl's father was invited to Qonya by the Seljūqi king, ‘Alā’u-’d-Dīn Kayqubād, where he founded a college, and where he died in a.d. 1231. The king built a marble mausoleum over his grave, with this date inscribed on it. The king himself died, five years later, in a.d. 1236.

At his father's death, Jelāl went to Aleppo and Damascus for several years to study, and then returned to Qonya, where he was appointed professor of four separate colleges. His reputation for learning and sanctity became very great.

But before this journey to Damascus, he appears to have paid a visit to Larenda. For, a former pupil of his father's at Balkh, who had become a great saint and anchoret, came to Qonya to seek Jelāl, and was the cause of his returning from Larenda to the capital.

p. x

This was the Sheykh and Seyyid Burhānu-’d-Dīn, who became Jelāl's spiritual teacher for some time. The dates given do not agree in the various branches of Eflākī's compilation; for he here gives a period of nine years'’ spiritual study at Qonya under Burhān.

After Burhān's instructions and departure from Qonya to Qaysariyya, where he died, and after Jelāl's studies at Aleppo and Damascus, with his subsequent return to Qonya and appointment to the four colleges, another great saint came to visit Jelāl at this latter city. This was Shemsu-’d-Dīn of Tebrīz, for whom Jelāl conceived a very great friendship. He is mentioned in the Mesnevī several times in very high terms. He appears to have been exceedingly aggressive and domineering in his manner. This roused a fierce animosity against him, which at length broke out in a tumult. Jelāl's eldest son, ‘Alā’u-’d-Dīn, was killed or mortally hurt in this disturbance. The local police seized Shemsu-’d-Dīn in consequence, and he was never again seen alive by his friends. Jelāl went himself to Damascus, in hopes that he might have been sent away, or have got away, privately. But the effort was fruitless. Later traditions cause his corpse to have been recovered and buried at Qonya, differing, however, as to the place of interment.

When Jelāl found that he required assistance in conducting all the various duties that fell on him, he selected first for that office his former fellow-student, Sheykh Salāhu-’d-Dīn Ferīdūn, surnamed Zer-Kūb (the Gold-beater), from his business. He assisted Jelāl for about ten years, and died in a.d. 1258.

Jelāl now took as his assistant his own favourite pupil,

p. xi

[paragraph continues] Hasan Husāmu-’d-Dīn, surnamed the son of Akhī-Turk, through his being descended from some man of celebrity of the name or designation of Akhī-Turk. There appears to have been a large family of very influential men residing at Qonya and other towns of Asia Minor, all calling themselves Akhī, and distinguished as Akhī: Ahmed, Akhī: Eshref, &c. The word "Akhī" is Arabic, and signifies "my brother." It may also mean "one related to a brother," as a servant, slave, client, &c., of some prince, &c.; or of some dervish "brother" of some religious order. Indeed, these very numerous individuals named Akhī, may have been each a "brother" of such a fraternity or fraternities, or even of some industrial guild.

Ten years after Husām was taken as his assistant by Jelāl, this latter was called to his rest in December a.d. 1273; and was buried in his father's mausoleum, leaving Husām as his successor. But meanwhile, at Husām's suggestion, and with himself as the first amanuensis thereof, the Mesnevī had been composed, in six volumes, books, or parts, by Jelāl. The second volume was commenced in a.d. 1263. There had been an interval of two years between the completion of the first and this, caused by Husām's grief at the death of his wife. The whole work is stated to contain twenty-six thousand six hundred and sixty couplets. A seventh volume or book has been also attributed to the Mesnevī, to make up the number to that of the "seven planets;" some say it was composed or collected by Sultan Veled. The anecdotes of Eflākī make mention of many hundreds of odes composed also by Jelāl.

p. xii

He is said to have instituted his peculiar order of dervishes, with their special dress, the Indian garb of mourning, in memory of his murdered friend, Shemsu-’d-Dīn of Tebrīz; and to have adopted the use of instrumental music, the flute, the rebeck, the drum, and the tambourine, with singing or chanting, as an accompaniment to the holy dance, on account of the lethargic nature of the "Romans." As a child is tempted to take a salutary medicine by the exhibition of a little jam or honey, so Jelāl judged that the "Romans" might be tempted to a devotional love for God through the bait of sweet sounds addressed to their outward senses. Dancing or twirling by dervishes was of much older date, as will be recollected in one of the tales of the Arabian Nights.

Husām died in a.d. 1284, just ten years after his teacher Jelāl; whose son, Bahā’u-’d-Dīn, Sultan Veled, succeeded Husām as chief of the order, and died in a.d. 1312. His son, Chelebī Emīr ‘Ārif, succeeded him, and passed away in a.d. 1320; two of his half-brothers becoming chiefs of the order after him in succession.

Eflākī informs us that he undertook the compilation of his work at the express desire of his spiritual teacher, Chelebī Emīr ‘Ārif. The preface gives the year a.h. 710 (a.d. 1310) as that of its commencement, and the colophon at the end mentions a.h. 754 (a.d. 1353) as the date of its completion. He thus spent forty-three years in his labour of love. The copy used for the present translation was written in a.h. 1027 (a.d. 1617), and belongs to the library of the India Office, being No. 1670. It is a quarto volume of 291 numbered folios of two pages each folio, and twenty-three lines in each page. It is subdivided

p. xiii

into a preface, of two folios, and ten chapters of very different lengths, thus:


Acts of Bahā’u-’d-Dīn Veled, Sultānu-’l-‘Ulemā




Acts of Seyyid Sirr-Dān, Burhānu-’d-Dīn, Termizī



Acts of Mevlānā Jelālu-’d-Dīn, Muhammed



Acts of Shemsu-’d-Dīn, Tebrīzī



Acts of Sheykh Salāhu-’d-Dīn, Zer-Kūb



Acts of Husāmu-’d-Dīn, Khalīfa of God



Acts of Mevlānā Bahā’u-’d-Dīn, Sultan Veled



Acts of Chelebī Emīr ‘Ārif



Acts of Chelebī Emīr ‘Ābīd, &c.









The work contains many hundreds of anecdotes, related to Eflākī by trustworthy reporters, whose names are generally given, and a few for which he vouches himself as an eyewitness. Every anecdote is the account of a miracle wrought by the living or the dead; or is the narrative of some strange or striking event. It is, in fact, a species of the Acts of the Apostles of the Mevlevi dervish fathers, and is a rare specimen of what fervid religious enthusiasm can invent or exaggerate, pious credulity can believe, and confiding ignorance accept. In these days of Christian "Spiritualism," let not the reader be over-shocked at learning that Muslim "Saints," lovers of their Creator, and beloved by Him in return, hold themselves and are held by their dervish brethren to be the successors and spiritual inheritors of the prophets, from Adam to Muhammed; that, in virtue of this spiritual communion with God, they know all the secrets and mysteries of heaven and earth, and not only suspend or overrule the laws of nature at their will, but also deal out death or disease by their

p. xiv

anger, health or prosperity by their blessing; the whole in strict accordance, however, with the eternal will and foreknowledge of Him by whom alone all things are made.

The anecdotes translated are chosen as being characteristic of various points of dervish credence or assertion. Most of them inculcate some moral truth or point of practical wisdom. A few will be found, however, to go far beyond the credible; and one or two, unless totally misunderstood by the translator, are simply and grossly blasphemous. These last are here given as specimens of the exaggerated dervish doctrines which cause the orthodox among the ‘Ulemā 1 of Islām to hold all such quasi-religious associations to be more or less heterodox.

The dervishes of Islām appear to be a kind of Gnostics. They style themselves Poor, Impassioned, Adepts, and Perfect. In many respects their doctrines correspond with those of Buddha, Pythagoras, and Plato, making all souls that are destined to salvation to be emanations from the divine Light or Glory of God, in which they will be again congregated; and all those doomed to perdition to have been formed out of the Fire of His wrath, to which also they will eventually be consigned.

It is but too patent to the translator that he is bound to sue for the kind indulgence of a critical public, in offering them the present volume in verse. He has no claim to being a poet himself; and had never practised the art

p. xv

of metrical composition until very lately. Sensible himself to the earnestness of thought and beauty of diction imbedded in the writings of the great poets of Ishim, and keenly aware of the condition of dry bones to which literal prose translation almost always reduces a songster's numbers, he has preferred to clothe his author in a presentable garb, though it be but a crumpled wrap, rather than exhibit him to readers of taste as a mangled mass, stripped of all beauty, and in great measure divested even of cognisable form, through the conflict of dictions and diversities of ideas.

He is in the position of the raindrop sung by Sa‘dī (see Chap. iii., No. 14., of the Anecdotes), and mentioned of old by Chardin, Addison, and Sir William Jones. May the thoughts in the Mesnevī be the gems that will make his effort acceptable to the British public. At most, he is but the diver who risks extinction in the hope that he may have a chance to offer an acceptable pearl of price to those for whom he has worked

"A raindrop, from a cloud distilled,
 At sea's expanse with tremor filled,
 Mused: 'Where the main rolls, am I aught?
 In ocean's presence, sure, I'm naught.'
 Itself, thus eyed with scorn profound,
 In oyster's bosom nurture found.
 Time's wheel wrought changes manifold;
 Rich pearl of price the raindrop's told.
 Meek modesty its prize received;
 By naught's gate ent’ring, worth achieved."

Kilburn Priory, London. 1880.


vii:1 For the incidents and dates mentioned in this preface, see the various chapters of the Anecdotes.

ix:1 He must have been born in about a.d. 1204 or 2205, to have been five years old when the family left Balkh. In 1226 he would, therefore, be twenty-one or twenty-two years of  age. But see Anecdotes, Chap. i., No. 2, &c.

xiv:1 The "‘Ulemā of Islām" are the Learned Doctors of Law and Divinity; their chief is the Lord Chancellor. They are ignorantly spoken of as "priests" and "clergy" by Europeans. There are no "priests" in Islām. The ‘Ulemā may be likened to the Jewish Rabbis. They often have followed, and do follow, all kinds of trades.

Next: Title Page